Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Literature in Pill or Syrup Form

How ecstatic am I? Quite ecstatic, upon discovering the audiobook section on iTunesU. Say what you will about advancing technology, say what you will about the Apple corporate behemoth: regardless, I benefit by listening to classic literature for which I have neither patience nor inclination to sit down and read. Yes, I realize there is an entire section of literature with which every cultured world citizen should be familiar, and yes, it is a failure of my character that I can't just sit down and take in every typeset line.

Yet I'll argue in favor of the value and relevancy of audiobooks ad nauseum, don't get me started, and if I can listen to someone reading a book much easier than reading the book myself, how much is lost? If I can listen to someone reading a book while I'm doing some other creative project or chore (listen to books while washing the dishes: it changes everything), why wouldn't I? Why wouldn't I maximize my time by doing all the trivial little things I want to do while also soaking in great literature? This shouldn't even be a question: people should be signing up for this capability. People should be overjoyed at all the substantial, enriching data available for download.

If you could brush your teeth while simultaneously receiving antidepressants from your toothpaste as well as storing the kinetic energy from your elbow and wrist to charge your iPod or cell phone... why would you complain? Why would you complain that such-and-such company's getting too big for its britches? Why would you long for the days when brushing your teeth was a backwards and ineffectual process?

I see that Great Expectations has fully downloaded, and before I get out of the shower, Frankenstein should be completed as well. I'm inordinately excited about this. I'll dump these to my iPod Touch and will trot around like a mobile library.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Positive Change: WE CARE Solar

As important as it is to complain; as important as it is to bemoan; as important as it is to angst about our ever-darkening future, so important is it also to focus on the tiny flickering lights of hope. Even if these gestures are wasteful, inelegant, or ultimately futile, nothing useful comes of deriding or compromising them.

This is the Traveling Suitcase from WE CARE Solar (Women's Emergency Communication and Reliable Electricity). Observers in northern Nigeria witnessed appalling hospital conditions in which electricity occasionally cut out--often in the middle of medical procedures, forcing doctors to perform a C-section by flashlight--and brainstormed this device.

From the Web site:
Our emergency obstetric photovoltaic system powers the following:
  • Overhead surgical lighting in areas of critical need such as the operating room and labor and delivery
  • Mobile telecommunications between hospital staff and on-call physicians
  • Existing on-site surgical equipment that is currently underutilized
  • A blood bank refrigerator that utilizes DC electicity
  • Battery chargers that power LED headlamps for night duty workers
This setup is highly in demand, and the locations where they've tested it have begged to be allowed to retain the device. Imagine how poor the infrastructure would have to be, for a jury-rigged solution like this to represent a dramatic improvement? Even a simple task like retrieving another doctor was complicated by requiring a foot-runner to physically search the facility to locate the doctor and carry the request, rather than the amenities we enjoy such as an overhead PA system or cell phones. And even the addition of simple LED headlamps for the physicians was a substantial improvement over their prior working conditions!

I cannot relate to those people who would sneer at this and insist we wait for a "more elegant" solution, or who dismiss this as posturing by imperialist Western saviors suffering from Liberal white guilt. I can't relate to such churlish spirits. I'm only encouraged by a news story such as this.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Brain Crush

Okay, there, I did it. I confessed my crush on Kate Beaton, to Kate Beaton.

Who is this, you might ask? She's the brilliant writer and gifted artist behind Hark, A Vagrant! In case you only first became acquainted with the Intarwub last week, this is a Web-based comic in which Kate culls salient passages from Canadian and U.S. history (or world history in general) and turns them into comedic instances.

Anyone could try to make a joke of history, because we were stupid and didn't know so much about the world, basically stumbling around in the dark as we invaded nations and killed off foreign cultures in the name of religion (read: finances).

But Kate's sense of humor is finely honed in the way that rare prodigies exhibit. It's like, on the one hand, okay, you've got Dane Cook. He swears and he screams a lot and he repeats himself. I get it. He's like the most popular douchebag on the third floor of Stearns Hall. But then there's Maria Bamford who can not only change her voice into completely different people but supplements this superpower with a keen, insightful study into the caprices of human nature.

On the one hand, you've got popular humor. On the other, you've got a higher level of humor that is cherished by the best humorists. Do you see the difference? Can you? If you look at that sentence and all you see is, "On the one hand you've got THE GOOD STUFF and on the other you've got I DON'T GET IT," well... you're probably not reading this blog. I would have irritated you a long time ago, and how sad would your life have to be that you would continue reading.

So. It's not enough just to really like something. Like, J.D. Salinger recently died, and I felt bad not only because I thought he'd died decades ago, but that I'd made no attempt to reach him and tell him how awesome I deemed him. Granted, he was a recluse and had no interest in other people, but still. But I'm a tremendous fan of Gene Wolfe, and he's still alive, and I wrote him to tell him how important his work is to me. He actually wrote  back and autographed a couple books for me. And I bugged him a few times and if I can read between the lines correctly I think I alarmed him a little. So I backed off.

Learning nothing from this, I wrote to Kate Beaton to tell her how awesome I think she is. I tried not to overdo it but truth be told I'm enjoying a Bourbon County Brand Stout and it's very strong. It gives... it doesn't give me ideas, but it lends much credence to the ideas I do have.  But I do believe it's important to tell artists and authors that you appreciate them, because they're working hard and maybe they get paid but some of them like to hear from fans. They like to hear someone's digging on their work.

Friday, March 12, 2010

More Postcard Interest

Every now and then I've got to go off about how cool Postcrossing is. It would be worse if I only had one blog, but I can divide this exultation between two separate locations so it's not as intense as it could be.

Below is a map of the trajectory of my postcards.
BLUE = where I've sent them
PINK = who's sent them to me

And below, this is the map of my postcard collection, all the nations that have sent me postcards. It looks more impressive as you zoom in, but I wanted to get a shot of the entire world for this image.

Why wouldn't everyone be into this? I don't get why people wouldn't want to receive postcards from other people living all over the globe. I think this is the most amazing thing, this free service anyone can join.

And once again, here is my constantly updated postcard collection. I fixed the sync so that it automatically uploads whenever I enter a new one, as well as updating the map location and any caption I append to it. This is the height of convenience.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Stupid Questions I Can't Answer

Yeah, I'm way into this game, for no good reason. This is Cafe World on Facebook. It's put out by Zynga, the same people who do Mafia Wars, FarmVille and FishVille on FB and Scramble/Scramble 2 on the iPhone/Touch.

This game is simple: you're running a cafe. You gain recipes through experience. You pay to create each dish but make more money by serving it. Each recipe requires a variable amount of time to prepare, from three minutes to three days. If a dish takes 10 minutes to cook, you wait ten minutes and have a grace period of ten minutes to collect it before it rots and you just lose money. You gain experience through creating dishes, and with experience comes more recipes. You gain money through serving dishes and can buy all sorts of decorations for your restaurant. They also have a selection of decorations you can only get through a different money system in the game, and for the most part you can only get that money by purchasing it with real money. They want you to spend real money so you can decorate your cafe in a game you're not even going to play forever.

I refuse to spend any real money on this game, but I have blown hundreds of hours on it. It's the same game, no matter how high you go in level: there are no tricks or change-ups, you simply make food to make money to get stuff. On and on, level after level. Yet something keeps me playing and I can't figure out what. What will I do when I have all the recipes? What will I do when I've maxed out my counter/cooking spaces, when I've hired all the employees allowable?

Anyway. Today's dessert day at my cafe, Le Bistro Erudite. Lots of pie and some waffles and pancakes. This does not affect you if you're another player: if you show up, the game will serve you some random dish, not necessarily what I'm serving in my cafe. You can't chat me as another player. You can't interact with my cafe in any way. So why the hell do I keep wasting time on this game?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

They Know Their Market

Location: Green Bay, WI, USA
I found this sign in Green Bay. When you see a sign like this in Minneapolis, it's one glowing wall of an MTC bus stop. The other two walls (the back and one side; the sign is the other side) are just glass--frequently shattered or scratched all to hell by gangsta trash from Chicago--plus this double-sided sign.

You'd think a sign like this might be inappropriate to display in public, you know. You can imagine situations in which little kids ask their parents what whipped cream has to do with marriage, or what it means to "get whipped." But Minneapolis has some very embarrassing bus stop signs, as a matter of fact. For a while our city was liberally sprinkled with a stop pedophilia now PSA campaign, and we can agree that's a worthy cause, but I heard an anecdote about a group of Somali women who had immigrated recently and wondered how proliferate child rape was in Minneapolis.

But this wasn't at a bus stop. This sign advising septuagenarian couples to introduce food substances into their sexual congress was in the middle of a mall. Younkers, to be specific. It's not a cutting-edge place, it's not haute couture, you go there to get shoes for work or Levi's or to shop at Waldenbooks. This glowing sign was on a kiosk in the center of this mall. Yeah.

I've been meaning to post this for some time, now.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Heavy Snowfall in My Town

Location: East Harriet, Minneapolis, MN, USA

I like this format: large picture, writing underneath. This is my layout for my 365-pictures photoblog, but I think I'll use it here, too.

Here's my backyard from last week or the week before. Everything's covered in marshmallow fluff, with lots of round, smooth edges. It's very appealing. This kind of snowfall also facilitates tracking small animals: you can't see it in this shot, but on other days there are several heavily trafficked paths of squirrel footprints, maybe some rabbits as well.

On the right are two curved wooden benches sitting around our fire bowl... I don't know what to call that thing. It's not a fire pit because it stands above the ground. It's not an oven or a stove. A brazier? Would anyone know what I meant if I said we had a brazier in our backyard? Below that in the image is our picnic table. We asked our landlord if we could shop for one and he ran out and got one on his own. Stained it nicely, too, which you can't see under all that snow.